My involvement with NCT

Lancet Midwifery SeriesI’ve been asked to write about my involvement with NCT. When and how I got involved with research and maternity services activity.  I’ve been asked how NCT has gone about having influence, so have been sharing  this kind of information with women in other countries recently. And I will add more. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback.

  1. When and why did you first get involved with NCT?

My mother was an NCT member in 1958. (She just missed out for the birth of my older sister who was born in 1956.) Mum talked about labour and birth to her young daughters quite a lot. There were two more babies after me, so pregnancy and breastfeeding were fairly prominent in our lives. I recall my mum explaining to me, aged about six, how useful pelvic rocking on all fours can be for a back ache during labour. Mum had all four of her babies at home. Erna Wright was her NCT antenatal teacher.  I am very proud to say that Erna Wright, who later wrote a book about her approach to labour preparation The New Childbirth (1964), was present at my birth. To some extent I guess she was taking the role of what we know call a doula.

Although Erna lived until 2004, I regret to say that I never met her. It turns out she was cooking and running a restaurant in Camden Town in the 1970s. She also trained as a psychotherapist. She came to Britain as a Jewish refugee and gave so much. Her Guardian obituary is well worth reading. My own mother, and other women like Erna Wright, inspired me to get involved with NCT. At 16, I chose Sheila Kitzinger’s book Some women’s experiences of childbirth as one of my end of post-GCEs prizes. I was hooked on childbirth as a women’s issue and exciting process from then onwards.

  1. When and how did you get involved with NCT research and/or maternity services activity?

I had my first two babies while I was still in my teens and then, aged 20, in 1979, I started training as an NCT antenatal teacher. This involved reading research. I remember reading radical works such as Marjorie Tew’s statistics on the outcomes for babies born at home (or in planned home births) compared with those having all their care in hospital. I was very moved by the work of Doris Hare, the American Childbirth Educator who wrote The Cultural Warping of Childbirth. See

I was also exercised about breastfeeding having had difficulties feeding my firstborn. I devoured The Infant feeding Survey. My NCT antenatal teacher training introduced me to all of these reports.  I was fascinated and inspired. (I have done a quick internet search to check when the Infant Feeding Surveys started. Sure enough, I discover that “The Infant Feeding Survey (IFS) has been carried out every five years since 1975 and the 2010 survey was the eighth time the survey has been conducted.” So I was reading the very first of these fantastically valuable reports.)

With another local woman, a breastfeeding counsellor who moved into the area already qualified, we set up the Grange over Sands Branch of NCT. I guess the first activity we undertook to influence maternity services locally was to contact the Community Health Council about the quality of support for breastfeeding.

Much later, after taking A levels at an adult college and six years at university, first reading Sociology at LSE and then working on social research at Essex University, I joined NCT staff as National Secretary Elect in 1988.  Hanna Corbishley was the retiring National Secretary and I recall how every Friday afternoon when the British Medical Journal was delivered she would sit and read all the relevant news and articles. Having read a lot of social research and some epidemiology during my university years, I started to become a frequent reader of biomedical research.

NCT had it Research and Information Group at that time, a committee of volunteers, some of whom had health professional training. Members were carrying out a survey of women’s experiences of dirty hospitals and postnatal infection. The study was used for lobbying and is referred to in the Health Select Committee Maternity Services inquiry of 1991. I produced a good deal of the evidence that NCT submitted to that inquiry, and have worked for NCT using evidence to improve maternity services, and producing evidence, ever since.

  1. What have you learnt from the different projects you have been involved with?

I have learned that there is much to be gained for NCT by doing research which it leads and has freedom to design according to the priorities of women and families, and its members. There is also much to be gained from working collaboratively and being a co-investigator with eminent researchers and representatives from many different disciplines and perspectives.

I value the research I carried out with an NCT colleague on postnatal care (Left to your own devices: The postnatal care experiences of 1260 first-time mothers, Newburn and Bhavnani, 2010) This was ‘service user-led’ research and important for that reason. Sheila Kitzinger established that precedent in NCT with Some women’s experiences of episiotomy, and we followed it in the 1990s with an NCT study of Rupture of the Membranes.

I was also pleased to research NCT’s antenatal education from the perspective of women and men using NCT services (Preparing for Birth and Parenthood: Report on First-Time Mothers and Fathers Attending NCT Antenatal Courses, Newburn, Muller and Taylor, 2011). I wanted to communicate to the world something more about what NCT courses were all about, as well as demonstrating how women and men experienced the courses and the preparation using statistical data and testimonies.

I also value very highly having been a co-investigator on studies run by leading researchers, such as:

I’ve learnt from contributing to these influential studies, and to the Parents of premature babies project (POPPY), Cochrane reviews (pain relief in labour) and NICE guidance and The Lancet Midwifery series that service users really can influence and fundamentally shape the development of new evidence-based knowledge by being involved in the design, analysis and the writing up of studies. The image above is from an interview for the international launch of The Lancet Midwifery series (see link above).

 4. How do you feel they have contributed to improving care for parents and families?

I feel that I, and the work of NCT generally, has contributed substantially to maternity care that takes account of the social and psychological impact as well as biomedical ‘outcomes’. The way services are structured and delivered, for example offering choice of place of birth, providing support for breastfeeding no longer separating mothers and babies and now encouraging skin-to-skin care, aiming to provide continuity of midwifery carer, are some examples.

The ideas of ‘woman-centred’, ‘family-focused’, ‘family-centred, and ‘personalised’ care are so important. These concepts are now very widely used in the literature and evident in practice, even though there is still so much more to achieve. The principle of ‘patient and public involvement’ in research, in policy and in planning and monitoring of maternity services is embedded.  We at NCT have helped to do that, working as a movement, sharing our knowledge and passion. Supporting each other and new generations of activists and parent advocates.

5.What would you say to anyone who is feeling nervous about becoming a user rep?

You can do it! You will enjoy it!  Find a few contacts who you can talk to – both those who have a bit more experience and new-comers going through the same kind of steep learning curve you will experience. Join the Facebook group NCT leaders. Network, browse the web, sign up for alerts, make a group of influential friends, look out for training opportunities. Know your limitations and practice saying ‘No’. You don’t have to be Superwoman. As well as making a difference for other women and families, it’s great for your own personal development and for your CV.

My thanks to Rachel Plachcinski, NCT Research Engagement Officer, AKA @stroppybrunette, who posed the questions and prompted me to write this. The questions have been sent out to many other NCT activists and I look forward to hearing their stories and reflections. I can’t make it to the NCT’s annual gathering for volunteers and practitioners, where they will be shared this autumn, but maybe more of them will be posted online. I do hope so.

Home birth: putting evidence into practice and promoting choice

This blog is linked to Life lesson 1 How to prepare a conference talk  – living and learning also published yesterday, 8th June 2016.

Having come from a wonderful conference on home birth organised by the University of Bradford Midwifery Society, which I enjoyed enormously and was privileged to be invited to speak at, my key messages about Home birth: putting evidence into practice and promoting choice are these:

Why does the issue matter?

How women give birth is a political and human rights issue. From a feminist perspective, it is a women’s rights issue. Individuals and organisations have lobbied to raise awareness about home birth and the need for home birth services to be offered to women routinely. Choice of place of birth has been official policy since the early 1990s, yet the rate of home births remains low at around 2-3% for England overall. There seem to be obstacles in the way. We need to understand what they are.

Who stands to benefit?

Birth place decisionsThe Birthplace in England study, a large, prospective cohort study of direct relevance to our maternity services, showed that pregnant women at low risk of complications (generally, women who are healthy with a straightforward pregnancy, and no previous obstetric complications) are more likely to have their whole labour and birth without the need for medical procedures (epidural, episiotomy, forceps, ventouse or an emergency Caesarean section) if they plan for a home birth rather than book for care in an obstetric unit. For ‘low-risk’ women who have previously had a baby, planned home birth is very safe. For ‘low-risk’ first-time mothers, there is a small additional chance of an ‘adverse’ outcome, but the absolute risk is still very small.

What are women saying?

Women responding to NCT surveys told researchers what they found helped them have the kind of birth they wanted. The things they rated most important in descending order were:  a birthing pool or a large bath; en suite toilet / bathroom; a comfortable, adjustable bed; low lights or adjustable lighting; privacy and quiet. Women who had a home birth reported having access to these things more often than women who had their labour and birth in other settings.(See NCT report on Better birth Environment accessible at:

How might clinical outcomes, experiences and wellbeing be enhanced?

There is evidence that clinical outcomes, women’s experiences, start in life for babies and long-term wellbeing can all be enhanced if women are offered the opportunity to plan for a home birth.

What shall we do?

  • Be proactive in suggesting home birth as an option to women whose pregnancy is straightforward. Offer it first or second as a birth option, not as the afterthought or final option.
  • Aim for a home birth rate of at least 5% in your local authority area. We (NCT BirthchoiceUK) have hypothesised that unless there is a critical mass of 1 in 20 pregnant women having a home birth there probably isn’t sufficient infrastructure in place to offer the service universally, there may be too few community-based midwives to offer home birth pro-actively and – crucially – women and men will not know others in their neighbourhood or friendship groups who have planned for a home birth, so it won’t seem like a ‘normal’, achievable, mainstream option. (see Location, Location, Location, NCT
  • Provide women with positive information about home birth. Share the other practical issues including letting first-time women know about transfer rates and the small additional risk to their baby. Discuss this openly and in context. Let the woman decide and support her decision-making. Use the information summary published as part of the NICE Intrapartum Care guideline. Use infographics to show what the numbers mean visually (e.g. Kirstie Coxon decision support:
  • Encourage women to attend local home birth groups, online home birth communities and networks. Midwives need to know about good links to suggest.
  • As midwives, run regular groups for women and couples interested in home birth and invite women and their partners to attend. As women/couples to help run the groups.
  • Provide continuity models of midwifery care. Give women a mobile phone number for contact at any stage. Experience suggests that women respect this and don’t abuse it.
  • Discuss with women and men planning for or considering a home birth ways of preparing for labour and birth. Know of good books to recommend, such as The Homebirth Handbook (Vermilion) by Annie Francis, published June 2016.
  • Talk to women about the joy, comfort, intimacy, convenience and cleanliness of a home birth. Discuss positively how birth is a special social occasion filled with emotional significance and a rewarding physical challenge, rather than a clinical episode.
  • Discuss the benefits for babies of straightforward birth, not being separated from the mother after birth, skin-to-skin, easier start to breastfeeding, all of which can be enhanced in the setting of home.
  • Acknowledge that women and men are on their own territory at home. The midwives are guests in their home. The power dynamic shifts.
  • Talk in a matter of fact way about how birth doesn’t always go according to plan and if a women needs an epidural or she or her baby need assistance, that’s what the hospital is for. It’s all about having the best experience in the particular circumstances.
  • Collect and share (with permission) women’s and men’s accounts of their labour and birth and the hours /days afterwards.


NB: There is debate later in the afternoon about how much information women want about possible ‘risks’ and risk assessment. Four women attending the conference who had had a home birth felt the discourse around risk was unwelcome and dispiriting. Often a constant source of negativity throughout pregnancy. This prompted discussion on how much information is needed for informed decision making.

NICE Intrapartum Care guideline. Use infographics to show what the numbers mean visually

Birth Place Decisions, Coxon K. decision support:

Location, Location, Location, NCT  Available at: 

Singh D and Newburn M (July 2006) Feathering the nest, Midwives 9;7,266-269. Available at:

Life lesson 1 How to prepare a conference talk – living and learning

I’m on the train heading home after the wonderful Bradford home birth conference organised by University of Bradford Midwifery Society.   It’s been a great day with a combination of established speakers and fresh new voices. This was an occasion when I feel I didn’t get my talk quite right. So, I’m reflecting now on what I’ve learned over 25 years of public speaking but didn’t fully put into practice today. And I’ll share a few tips with you, based on these thoughts. I’ll finish up with a few notes on my preparation for today and I’ll write a separate blog summary of intended (or useful?) messages for today’s delegates.

Preparing a conference talk

Study the programme and be clear what contribution you and others are being asked to make – You may well need to check with the organisers what they are looking for and want to avoid. It may make good sense to check with other speakers what they will be covering. It doesn’t matter if there is some overlap as it can help to familiarise people with key material, but it may help you prioritise.

Make a plan and identify two or three key messages – Ask yourself as you develop the talk, Are the points clear? Are they well made? It’s entirely up to you how much you flag up in a formal introduction what your talk will cover, but it’s probably helpful to summarise the key messages before you finish.

Less is more – know how many minutes to you have been allocated to speak. Work out, and check with the organisers, how long you will speak for and how long you will allocate for questions and discussion with the delegates.

Connect with the delegates – interactive communication is better than a monologue. Share something of yourself. It might be something personal about your life or career, or a story about a particular insight or favourite quotation and why it means a lot to you. Today, Mary Nolan, shared a quote from a 17th century midwife and read the quote showing us how the rhythm reflected the rhythm of labour and contractions that come and then pass. If you give a little of yourself, the delegates will give back. Ask some questions as you go, and make sure to allow time at the end for discussion. Unless you know the perspectives, interests and concerns of those you’re talking to, you may not give them what they really want to know or to explore.

Find your own voice – what are you and your contribution all about? Are you an educator or teacher? Are you a practitioner sharing your practice? Are you a lobbyist? Are you there to tell your own story, perhaps as a service user?  Are you a representative of women, there to communicate a range of experiences or concerns? Maybe you’ve been invited to provide an objective set of information impartially? How much do you want to influence, how much to inform? How much to entertain? How much do you want people to question their own thinking and behaviour? Do you want to stir up an emotional reaction?

Make the case – One of the things we do as part of NCT Voices training for service user representatives on maternity services liaison committees (MSLCs) is encourage them to identify a change they want to see realised and make the case for change. Why is it important? Who would benefit and how? What do local women and families say? What formal evidence is there? What could we do differently? Would it be cost-effective? These kinds of questions might enable you to plan your talk, depending on its purpose.

Avoid the pitfalls presenting evidence – I’ll stick to a few points here, as a whole text book could be written on this alone.

  • If presenting quantitative findings, make sure you know what all the numbers relate to and what they mean. If you don’t know, ask someone who does. Many colleagues and contacts will help a friend willingly or support a new contact who asks for help.
  • Don’t go into more detail than necessary just because you find the data fascinating. Think about your key points and what is mission-critical. Think about what the audience needs to know. Let them know if there a place they can look up the detail afterwards.
  • Don’t feel that you have to do all the work. Introduce a few ideas and maybe encourage people to check-out a key review, or audit report.
  • It’s not acceptable to make claims, e.g. about cause and effect, and not cite a reference.
  • Avoid jargon. Make sure to use language most of the audience will understand.
  • Don’t assume much prior knowledge. It is important to be inclusive, so explain concepts briefly to carry as many people with you as possible.
  • Make sure you state the more important points. If you are very familiar with something, you may overlook to mention key points of methodology that sets a study apart.
  • Don’t read out every number shown on a slide. Often the trends can be seen at a glance and the detail can be followed up by those who need it. Add a source for everything, and a date of publication. That shows you know your stuff and others can fact-check if they want to.

Experiment with humour – Any speaker who can make an audience laugh will feel good and get a great reception. Some people and some subjects lend themselves better to laughs than others, which is why I say experiment. What it takes is being relaxed and appearing spontaneous. Practise spontaneity at home. If it’s not your thing, or you can’t pull it off, forget it. Don’t be smug. People who laugh at their own jokes more than the audience do, don’t make a good impression. The idea is to be sincere and likeable; the witty person others want to know. The more you relax and manage to be yourself, the more likely you are to succeed with the humour thing.

Practice giving your talk out loud – This will demonstrate how long it’s going to take. If you spend a few seconds longer on each slide than anticipated, the talk will over-run. Practice will enable you to hone the vital points to make and ditch the rest. You don’t need to repeat yourself. Work out how to be succinct and to segue fluently on to the next point or following slide. In my experience, practice makes perfect. Each run through tends to show where some minor adjustment can be made. Your aim is to be fluent and have oomph. Have you make our key points clearly? Do you need to shift the focus or emphasis?

Ask a friend for feedback – It can be galling to take tips after you have worked hard to come up with something profound and original, but better to bomb with one friend than with a roomful of blank faces at the event. Joking aside, it’s more about polishing so that the whole shines brightly and leaves the audience wanting more.

My performance today

Well, I broke a fair few of my rules. I should have done more research on the other speakers and the needs of the delegates. The title I had been given was Putting evidence into practice and promoting choice.  I changed my talk at the last minute, shifting the emphasis too far towards sharing the evidence and doing too little on ‘into practice’. I didn’t do a full run through because of the late changes. I didn’t interact enough or leave time for discussion. Thankfully, two lovely midwives did talk with me at the tea break abut questions they had, which gives me useful ideas. Not my best day at the office, though it could have been worse. See my linked blog on Home birth: putting evidence into practice and promoting choice.

The NHS Constitution & The Berwick Report: service user involvement & co-design

What a fabulous introduction to The NHS Constitution AND how it can be applied in maternity services user engagement and involvement #MSLC – a must read!

Birth Talk

Notes for MSLC Members & Maternity Commissioners The NHS Constitution, and the 160-page Handbook, that accompanies it are interesting & exciting documents. Worth a browse if you are interes…

Source: The NHS Constitution & The Berwick Report: service user involvement & co-design

View original post